From seed banks to sediment cores, scientific collections spanning millennia illustrate the challenge of food security. How can collections from varied disciplines help protect the food supply for our growing population?

  • Main Partner: USDA, National Agriculture Library | Stressors and Drivers of Food Security: Evidence from Scientific Collections

In a world where our food needs are expected to increase drastically as populations grow, scientists and policymakers alike need new and creative tools to ensure food security.

Sediment cores that chronicle past climate conditions may also contain pollen grains from ancient crops. Pest and pollinator collections in natural history museums are vital resources for ongoing research on plant protection and increased production. New technology has enabled us to apply novel molecular techniques to old specimens and expand the scope of research beyond the lab or the museum.

SciColl and USDA held a symposium, “Stressors and Drivers of Food Security: Evidence from Scientific Collections,” that engaged researchers from anthropology, archaeology, earth sciences, biodiversity, agriculture, and other fields in discussions examining food supplies throughout human history. Discussions of new partnerships, networks, and organizational behavior illustrated how collections are uniquely suited to support ongoing and future research.

Major Partners: U.S. Department of Agriculture

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) develops and executes policy on agriculture, food, natural resources, rural development, and nutrition. It works to promote economic innovation and agriculture to address food security needs both in the United States and around the world.

The USDA’s National Agriculture Library (NAL) is one of four national libraries of the United States and houses one of the world's largest collections devoted to agriculture and its related sciences. NAL holds more than 3.5 million items covering all aspects of agriculture and related sciences. The depth and richness of the collection make it a unique resource, with many materials not available anywhere else in the world.

Two-day workshop, 19-21 September 2016, USDA National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, MD

In partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, SciColl convened a symposium at the National Agriculture Library in Beltsville, MD. Experts in various disciplines examined interdisciplinary scientific collections as a critical resource for food security research. Find the symposium presentations, summaries and other products here.

Meeting Documents

Event photos

Press Release


USDA National Agriculture Library, Beltsville, MD, September 19-21 2016

Stressors and Drivers of Food Security: Evidence from Scientific Collections

Day 1: Monday, 19 September 2016

12:00 Registration
13:00 Welcome and Introductions
13:45 Session 1: Keynotes
15:30 Coffee Break
16:00 Session 2: Collections Lightning Talks
Representatives from different scientific collections will give short presentations on their repositories and specimens
17:30 Adjourn

Day 2: Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Sessions 3-6 were devoted to presentations about different research challenges, followed by commentaries and discussion by panelists representing different collection domains. The focus was on how different collection types could contribute to research.

9:00 Session 3: Varieties of Food
9:30 Panel Discussion: Martin Kalfatovic (Moderator), Rod Page, Ari Novy, Patricia Mergen, Savi Natarajan
10:00 Q&A, group discussion
10:30 Coffee Break
11:00 Session 4: Biological Stressors and Aides.
11:30 Panel Discussion: Rosalind James (Moderator), Kevin McCluskey, Márcia Maués, Steve Young, Lisa Castlebury
12:00 Q&A, group discussion
12:30 Lunch
13:30 Session 5: Environmental Stressors and Benefits
14:00 Panel discussion: Faith Bartz Tarr (Moderator), Maxine Levin, Edna Makule, Muni Muniappan, John Dickie, Stephanie Yarwood
14:30 Q&A, group discussion
15:00 Coffee Break
15:30 Session 6: Feeding the 10 Billion.
16:30 Q&A, group discussion: Anne Marie Thro (Moderator)
17:00 Adjourn

Day 3: Wednesday, 21 September 2016

9:00 Session 7 Participants separated into break-out groups to discuss:
  • New strategies for increasing the use and impact of collections and associated databases for food security research
    • Grace Costantino
    • Rod Page
    • Kris Gremillion
    • Shannon Dominick
    • Savi Natarajan
    • Jill Demers
    • Muni Muniappan
    • Akwasi Asamoah
  • Case studies that exemplify cross-cutting and forward-thinking uses of collections and associated databases for food security research
    • Rosalind James
    • David Inouye
    • John Dickie
    • Daniel Debouck
    • Kristina Hill
    • Maxine Levin
    • George Ziobro
    • Zafar Handoo
  • Major recommendations for the research and collections communities, funding agencies, and/or networks (such as SciColl)
    • Cyndy Parr
    • Ari Novy
    • Kevin Hackett
    • Ann Marie Thro
    • Marcia Maues
    • Patricia Mergen
    • Martin Kalfatovic
    • Edna Makule
10:30 Coffee Break
11:00 Discussion & Next Steps: Cyndy Parr, Moderator
  1. Break-out group summaries: Reports from each break-out group will be compiled into one set of new strategies and case study examples.
  2. Recommendations: What new capabilities, best practices and collaborations should be set as new goals for collections and researchers?
  3. Priorities: Where should resources and efforts be focused in the near-term, mid-term, and long-term?
  4. Action items: What should we do in the near-term, mid-term, and long-term to pursue these goals?
12:30 Adjourn
13:00 Collections Tours
  • US National Aphid Collection & US National Mites Collection
  • NAL Library and Special Collections

Contact Information

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Scientific Collections and Environmental Change

SPNHC Website

  • 16.10 Unlocking Evidence: Scientific Collections and Environmental Change Ellinor Michel & Eileen Graham EC1
  • 16.25 TBD Mark Spencer EC2
  • 16.40 DOAD, NODE and NANODe: integrating ostracod collections and databases for environmental change research applications David J. Horne & Judith Price EC3
  • 16.55 Investigating the impact of late Quaternary environmental changes using ancient DNA from collared lemming Selina Brace, Eleftheria Palkopoulou, Love Dalén, John Stewart & Ian Barnes EC4
  • 17.10 Forgotten molecules, long lost records Matthew Collins EC5
  • 17.30 Discussing Evidence: Scientific Collections and Environmental Change - Panel Discussion and Audience Participation Eileen Graham & Ellinor Michel EC6


The Svalbard Global Seed Vault holds more than 860,000 samples from almost every country in the world -- and yet is nowhere near capacity at 2.5 billion seeds.